Sign of the Times
Over an evening meal of pan-fried mushrooms, fillet of turbot and a trio of fruit sorbets, the EU’s 27 heads of state convened at the eleventh hour on Wednesday to discuss the necessary steps to secure a deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom.
In a week that had seen the two sides appear to edge closer to a deal, the discussion at the European Council banquet, as with nearly all pan-European dinners of late, centred on the deadlock which persists between the two sides. Deadlock, it seems, is just a sign of the times.
For over two years the United Kingdom and the European Union has been etching out the two key tenets of a successful divorce from the trading bloc: an agreement outlining details of the UK’s withdrawal and a political declaration setting out the framework for future relations.
Yet, as the seconds and minutes pass on the countdown to Brexit, speculation has risen that we are all headed for a ‘no deal’. To those desiring a smoother departure, a transition period and a new trade deal, time is of the essence. The race to deliver the ‘will of the people’ is on. Where will we end up? Only time will tell.
1. Give me just a little more time
On Sunday evening word was sent that the UK and the EU were nearing a deal. Like clockwork, Dominic Raab rolled in to Brussels, journalists flocked to town, and ambassadors from across the continent waited eagerly to hear that after a mammoth set of negotiations, stalemate had finally made way for progress.
Yet it was not to be. The EU’s proposal that Northern Ireland (in effect) stay in the customs union and single market after December 2020, at the end of transition period, in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland was dismissed by Theresa May. She said the proposal was “one we could not accept in the UK”.
The solution? Over pre-dinner drinks on Wednesday Theresa May is understood to have invited EU negotiators to meet her in the middle: give the UK a longer transition period and we can iron this out. Angering many in her own Party by not committing to a new departure date, and failing to agree as to whether this would result in additional payments being made to the EU, the idea has gained traction in the last few days.
Her plea to Give me just a little more time, was echoed by Jean-Claude Junker, who said it “probably will happen”. Anna Soubry, a prominent Remainer, attacked Mrs May for “reneging on everything and pickling everyone off.”
2. Time goes by (so slowly)
One industry that hasn’t seen sales flop since the Brexit vote is the watchmaking industry. World-renowned manufacturers Bremont Watches, who have seen their products popularised by the likes of explorer Bear Grylls and actor Ewan McGregor, have seen sales continue to grow despite an internationally challenging marketplace.
At a time when Swiss exports of watches and clocks has continued to fall, Bremont has recoded a surge in growth. “It’s been very positive”, co-founder Giles English told Bloomberg, adding that “Britain [is] on the map again”. Swiss brands such as LVMH Moet Hennessy, Swatch and Louis Vuitton had seen sales nosedive, in part because high-end buyers are more attracted to the UK market where the decreased value of the pound means they can get more for their money. For the Swiss, time is going by so slowly. Bremont is leaping ahead.
3. If I could turn back time
Sensible footwear is being advised on Saturday, as more than a hundred thousand people are expected to descend on Westminster for the People’s Vote march. Billed as the “March for our future”, the event is set to attract a range of celebrities, politicians and well-known faces. From Justine Greening to Patrick Stewart, a cornucopia of former Ministers and much-loved national treasures will address the crowd with a simple message: that the people must have the final say on any Brexit deal, that the Government has failed to take in to account the views of the people, and that the negotiations and the offer currently on the table will lead to a less prosperous United Kingdom.
The People’s Vote was given a boost last month when one of the country’s largest trade unions, the GMB, backed holding a new Brexit referendum after consulting with members. Just like in any union negotiation, it said, the public should not just consent to send the Government to Brussels to negotiate, but should have a say on the final deal. In what was labelled a “bombshell” poll, the Guardian found that two-thirds of members of Britain’s three largest unions all supported a second referendum.
Many have attacked the march, claiming the people have voted already, and accusing march-goers of trying to subvert the will of the people and rerun the referendum. The campaign has been jokingly referred to as a a ‘never-end-um’. Clearly, many on the march wish they could turn back time.
4. Time after time
The Government has said that Parliament will be invited to vote in favour of the final deal ‘in principle’ when the matter arises in Westminster, in an effort to prevent time being spent debating amendments. In a letter to MPs, Raab said MPs and Peers will have to choose between whatever deal is on the table and no deal – with no other options offered. The manoeuvre by the Brexit Secretary to guarantee support for May’s deal was labelled a “fix” by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell and a “silly tactic” by former Chancellor, Ken Clarke.
MPs in favour of a soft Brexit have argued that the final vote shouldn’t be limited to what they see as the potential of two poor options: accepting a ‘bad’ deal, and no deal at all. They say that MPs should have alternative options presented, including whether to send ministers back to the negotiating table, or to give the public a final say in another referendum.
Mr Raab warned in his letter that anything other than an unequivocal and binary vote would cause uncertainty for businesses and consumers, however Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer attacked Mr Raab, saying “ministers cannot silence Parliament.”
5. Time to say goodbye?
Scotland’s top judge has set a date for the UK Government to challenge a ruling on whether MPs can stop Brexit. At the Court of Session on Friday, the Lord President, Lord Carloway said he would hear an application for leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court on November 8th.
In September Lord Carloway and two fellow judges referred the issue to the European Court of Justice, which is being asked by a group of Scottish politicians if MPs can revoke the Article 50 withdrawal process underlying Brexit without the agreement of the other 27 EU states. If the court rules that they do have that power, it could lead to MPs forcing the UK government to abandon Brexit.
The UK Government continues to fight the action and the battle is now headed for the UK Supreme Court, who will make a final decision about whether the matter should go on to be heard by the European Court of Justice. If successful, withdrawing Article 50 could mean Britain remains in the European Union, begging the question – is it really Time to say Goodbye?